Chief Sec: No new amendments to autonomy bills

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. – Photo by David Reid

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine says his administration has not come up with any new amendments to the Tobago “autonomy” bills that are currently before a parliamentary joint select committee.

At a news conference on January 16 in Scarborough, Innovative Democratic Alliance (IDA) political leader Dr Denise Tsoiafatt Angus alluded to Augustine’s address at the funeral for former chief secretary Hochoy Charles in which, she claimed, he “casually mentioned” that he intended to send amended autonomy documents to Trinidad.

She accused him of failing to consult Tobagonians about the amendments.

“Is this dictatorship, stupidity or downright disrespect?” Tsoifatt Angus asked.

She also expressed her willingness to lead the fight in pushing the autonomy bills.

Dr Denise Tsoiafatt Anguspolitical leader, IDA.

But speaking to reporters on Friday after a sod-turning ceremony for the new Scarborough Secondary School at Bacolet Park, Augustine said his remarks at Charles’s funeral were taken out of context.

“I think people are completely misconstruing what I said. In fact, a member of the media reached out to ask me as a follow-up on what I spoke to at Mr Charles’s funeral. I indicated at Mr Charles’s funeral that we were working on a document that highlighted the differences between what was actually sent down to Parliament by Tobagonians, by former chief secretary Orville London, and what is actually in the bill,” he said.

“Some of the media asked me for updates on that and I indicated that that is completed and that will be disseminated to both parliamentarians and Tobagonians at large. That’s not the same thing as if we sat and came up with our own amendments that we are going to send down to Parliament.”

Augustine added, “The only thing that we are prepared to disseminate at this time is really a highlight of all the differences between the bill sent down to Parliament and the current bills that are before the Parliament.”

He said his administration has not come up with anything that Tobagonians have not already indicated they wanted, “which came out of the extensive process of consultation that happened prior to me even becoming a member of the Tobago House of Assembly.”

Augustine added, “So it is not that this government sat, came up with some amendments on our own and go to Parliament and not bring them to the rest of Tobago. The only thing that we are preparing to disseminate at this time is really that list of differences. That is not the same thing as us making amendments.”

He said by this week, “The matrix that was developed will be given to all and sundry. There is nothing new in that. We have not come up with anything new. That is not our place nor our job.”

The IDA, meanwhile, later claimed Augustine heeded its call for consultations and refrained from sending any amendments to Trinidad without the input of Tobagonians.

“This decision aligns with the IDA’s stance, emphasising the significance of inclusive decision-making in matters of constitutional reform,” the party said in a statement on Friday after Augustine’s interview at the sod-turning ceremony.

However, it warned that the road to Tobago’s autonomy requires more than just procedural steps.

“The Chief Secretary is reminded that successful negotiations demand relationships built on mutual respect, even if friendships may not be a prerequisite.”

The IDA called for a commitment to greater autonomy that not only reflects the aspirations of Tobagonians but also fosters a spirit of collaboration for the collective benefit of Trinidad and Tobago.

It also underscored the need for Augustine to recognise the “inherent challenge posed by the potential delay in achieving autonomy while simultaneously grasping the opportunities presented by the call of the Prime Minister for constitutional reform.

“It means that we owe it to Tobagonians and the country to have an in-depth review of the structure of governance being put forward such that we can take full advantage of the new opportunities on the horizon,” the IDA said.

The party said Augustine should involve all members of the House in approving the process, timeline and budget required in Tobago’s response to the Prime Minister’s recent call.

The IDA said a collaborative and inclusive approach within the legislative body is crucial to fostering a comprehensive and representative outcome that reflects the collective interests of Tobago.